When you hear the name of George Harrison, you probably don’t think of Benton, Illinois. Later this month, the southern Illinois town in Franklin County will be commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first Beatle in America with an historical marker on the Benton Public Square.
As a member of the Beatles, Harrison was the first to arrive in the United States to visit his sister Louise in 1963. Louise Harrison was a resident of Benton at the time of her brother’s three week visit, allowing him to get to know the area and some of its residents.
At the time of Harrison’s Benton visit, the Beatles were rapidly climbing the charts in England, six months before the guys would come to America together as a band. Harrison’s anonymity at the time gave him the freedom to walk the streets, play with local musicians and visit record stores in Benton, as well as camp in the Shawnee National Forest.
The historical marker in honor of George Harrison will be unveiled on September 21, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. in Capitol Park, southeast of the county square. The original location for the marker was to be east of the courthouse, but this change provides much more foot traffic and constant visibility by passing motorists.
The dedication ceremony guest list includes Jim Kirkpatrick, author of Before He Was Fab, and Bob Bartel, producer of the documentary A Beatle in Benton. According to Harrison Committee Chairman Jim Kirkpatrick, Harrison’s sister Louise has confirmed that she will also be in attendance.
There are several museums in Benton, but during this visit you'll probably want to take time for the Beatles Mini Museum at 113 McCann street. From their website: "Hard Day's Nite Bed & Breakfast provides a nostalgic window with a view of 1963, when George Harrison spent a summer vacation with his sister Louise Harrison, in Benton, Illinois."
Benton, Illinois, named after Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton, was founded in 1841 and incorporated in 1902, with the first railroad coming through town in 1879. The Bombardier Motor Corp and other boat-related businesses have turned the area into the “Boat Building Capital of America.” Major industries of Benton’s past were coal mining and agriculture. Benton is also the home of Rend Lake, Illinois’ second largest man-made lake.
Called the “Quiet Beatle,” Harrison was born on February 25, 1943 and lost his battle with cancer on November 29, 2001 at the age of 58.